How calm technology is bringing the human connection to a digital world
Is the technology you’re using improving or undermining your customer experience?
The use of technology in the way we work and deliver customer experience is without question. However, some of the statistics show a clear disconnect between what customers experience and CEO conjecture – that their companies are delivering a better experience as a result of technological innovation.
The Harvard Business Review estimates that 70% of all money spent on digital transformation ($900 billion) failed to meet its stated objectives. With that in mind, we stepped into a discussion at our February Navigator Forum, looking at the challenges of technology driving change and balancing that with a loss of human touch. As leaders, how do you navigate those elements and decide where to invest to keep customer experience at the heart of what you do?
Our discussion was led by keynote speaker Amber Case, who began by talking about the principle of human universals and the role that technology, especially “calm technology”, can play in helping to meet our needs. As a cyborg anthropologist and user experience designer, Amber’s work examines the intersection between humans and technology, which has seen her work with companies around the world and deliver a highly praised TED talk.
Human universals: the things we all need
Human universals are the fundamental things that humans (customers) need satisfying irrespective of circumstance. Amber demonstrated that by thinking of the technology we develop through the lens of human universals, it allows us to create better experiences. Focusing on those universal needs, leads to designing technology that gives us a sense of belonging, that is easy to use and makes things easier to do, that makes us feel safe and that gives us a sense of awe.
Amber noted that those organisations who make the greatest success of technology know where to use the human experience to its greatest effect, recognising, the right amount of technology, is the minimum to solve the problem. For example, if you go to a Japanese train station and you have trouble with the ticket machine, a person comes out of a panel in the wall to help you. Amber says: “There’s something to be learned from this: if you can’t automate everything, and you shouldn’t, then use human interactions to embrace individuals at the time of their greatest need.” That’s memorable and it’s where the human touch gives that sense of belonging, safety and awe that we need as human beings.
Find the culture of your business and use technology to drive it
One area of discussion, was that technology is often not considered as part of the cultural infrastructure of an organisation. Instead, it’s seen as an entity on its own. Company culture can be hard to build and maintain over time. We often see it at its most potent when a founder is at the helm of an organisation. As investors come in, it can get lost.
However, a company’s history and culture are important for all people involved – the team and the clients. It is part of creating that human connection, a sense of personality and passion. There was a feeling in discussions that technology and how it’s used, could play a more effective role if we question how it fits in with our intrinsic company values and culture, both in its purpose and implementation.
Focus on the role of technology, not the technology itself
Another area that was raised was how easy it is to lose sight of the purpose that technology serves. In her introduction, Amber used the analogy of a window and how it’s the view you want to see, not the frame. Amidst the digital transformation tsunami, a lot of organisations focus on the tools and not on the tasks. Her reference to the Japanese principle of Omotenashi, and the customer service at transport ticket machines, was thought to be a perfect example of how humans can’t be replaced. When things go wrong, customers need empathy and a sense that someone is listening to help solve the problem. Technology cannot provide that, so there’s a need to balance compliance and process with authenticity. The role of technology should be to remove pain and friction for the customer, not create it.
Take people on a journey of design
The processes by which technology is designed and implemented raise questions around how employees relate to it. Often team members see new technology as a threat to their job, they might not really understand it or don’t see it as an enabler to their role, and therefore blame it when things go wrong. Members of the discussion felt that there are many instances where companies deploy technology and tell their teams to use it but haven’t involved them in the design process, resulting in this friction.
Companies like Google excel at involving team members in the design process when it comes to creating and using new technologies. They capture peoples’ ideas so they’re part of design rather than just being told to use solutions when they launch. As a result, they create a fundamental link between human experience and technology that serves the customer, and helps you to identify the parts of your process that can be compressed to the side, so they can concentrate on addressing their core needs.
Inspired to choose or pushed to choose?
The advancements in technology raised an interesting discussion around ethics. What are the checks and balances around technological development within an organisation, and who is responsible for them? At what point are people being inspired to choose products and services and when are they being pushed?
As things stand, there are no regulations around how algorithms can manipulate human brains. However, we know that human science is increasingly demonstrating the strength of neuromarketing. The problem is to solve the need, but what if the need isn’t really ours, but one that has been induced by someone with a product or service to sell? Who should take care of this and when? As organisations we need to be aware of that responsibility.
Human not technology led
The pandemic has brought a lot of innovation to the ways in which we interact with one another. From GPs to office spaces and how we travel and work, we see new ideas and processes emerging. However, we mustn’t lose sight of the purpose of innovation; that we must think about it as human first rather than being technology led, focused on delivering those human universals.
Sometimes technology is so disruptive that we didn’t even know we wanted it. The most famous example is the Apple iPhone. However, part of the genius of the iPhone was that it was intuitive to use. The concept of being innovative doesn’t give licence for creating technology that is unusable and then blaming the customer for not ‘getting it’.
Where businesses come unstuck in their relationship with tech, is often when it’s considered from a very short-term perspective. When decisions are made based on short-term financial return, they tend not to serve the brand and its value. If we take a longer-term view, we may stand a better chance at investing in technology that improves consumer trust, engagement and has greater ultimate success for the business as a whole.
Technology is a wonderful thing for businesses, helping us to create efficiency and address points of friction in the consumer experience like never before. However, technology is there to enhance human experience, not replace it. It’s clear that to deliver the best experience, and ultimately enhance brand value, we have to create journeys that are empathetic to human needs and provide authenticity in their responses.
Talk to us about implementing technologies that will improve your customer experience.